Epimedium belongs to the flowering plants of the family Berberidaceae. The genus is also known as horny goat weed, yin yang huo, bishop’s hat and fairy wings. Majority of these are found in China with a few of them prevalent in Asia and the Mediterranean region.
The majority of these species have ‘spider-like’ four parted flowers in the spring season. They are deciduous in nature. One of the species of Epimedium is used as a dietary supplement. It is known as icariin. It works as a weak PDE5 inhibitor in the vitro though its clinical effects are still unknown.
Epimedium species are herbaceous perennials which grow from rhizomes found underground. They have varied growth habits with some growing with solitary stems and some having a tufted habit with multiple stems closely growing together.
Some species have several leaves on the stem while some have solitary leaves growing from the plant’s base. The leaves are often found with three leaflets and some with more. The leaflets have margins which are spiny. Some Epimedium plants are deciduous and some have long lasting leaves making the plant evergreen.
Flowers are produced in clusters on loose branches or in an open raceme. The number of flowers varies in different species. Individual flowers are divided into 4 parts with 4 smaller sepals outwardly. These are greenish in color and shed as the flower opens.
On the inside, there are 4 large petal-like sepals which are mostly brightly colored. Inside these sepals are the true petals of the flower. They have a complex shape along with a ‘spur’ which produces nectar. This spur is longer than the sepals and the flower has 4 stamens. A particular genus called the ‘bishop’s hat’ has a peculiar shape of the flowers with the spurs longer than the petals.
The following listed are some of the accepted species of the plant:
- Epimedium grandiflorum
- Epimedium sagittatum
- Epimedium sulphureum
- Epimedium brevicornum
- Epimedium frohnleiten
- Epimedium alpinum
- Epimedium rubrum
The species Epimedium × rubrum is a hybrid of the E. alpinum and E. grandiflorum.
How are they grown?
Many Chinese species are nowadays being cultivated in the west. Some of them have been discovered recently and yet to be named. Cultivators have seen success in growth of these hybrid varieties. Mikinori Ogisu or Japan and Massachusetts’s Darrell Probst have untiringly worked in this field and have seen rendered rise in the newly discovered species.
These new species from China are yet to be tested for their distinct aspects and their hardiness. The initial experiment was only done to prove their growth and see them thrive in replicated conditions and they have been successful so far in cultivating them in gardens and containers.
They are successfully grown in early springs. But they are best grown in late summers so that the rapid re-growth of shoots and roots takes place before winter falls. Several breeders like Robin White, Darrell Probst and Tim Branney are experimenting with their own hybrid techniques with this genus.
Epimedium have been grown in Japan as garden plants since centuries. People in the west have realized its importance only recently. Epimedium can survive on the forest floor and most of them have the similar hardiness and require similar conditions to thrive like humus-rich soil, moisture, cool shade and free-draining. Robust varieties of this plant can survive in dry shade conditions.
Epimedium can grow in dry shade conditions owing to their stout rhizomes and tough foliage but they face an early death due to the dryness. Under suitable conditions, they grow beautifully as groundcover plants with new leaves with a bronze, copper and reddish hue. The varied flower colors and shapes in spring season make them look astonishingly beautiful.
This is a plant blessed with a handsome and dense foliage round the year and the leaves turn into different shades of crimson, purple and scarlet red in the autumn season. They even remain evergreen in some species of the Epimedium. It is best to chop off the dense foliage shortly before the new leaves grow so that the full beauty of the plant can be seen. At such a time, generally mulch is applied to protect plant from frost-bite.
Its basic use is as a health supplement. It can be consumed in a tablet form, as a raw herb, a capsule or in combination with other supplements. It’s wild species are overly used in traditional Chinese medicines and this is posing a serious danger to the longevity of those species. These wild species are not much grown for medicinal use and hence there is a danger of them getting extinct. Some people take it believing it to be natural remedy to treat erectile dysfunction.
The herbal Epimedium has icariin which has shown inhibitory properties in vitro PDE5. It also increases the levels of nitric oxide which helps in relaxing smooth muscle. It relaxes rabbit penile tissue by PDE-5 activity and nitric oxide. When Epimedium extract is injected into the penis of a rat, it increases the penile blood pressure. It is still to find out whether orally taken Epimedium extracts have any effect.
Though Viagra is a famous PDE5 inhibitor which can treat erectile dysfunction and has a patent protection, some people proved that Epimedium also treated the same issue and so certain portions of the patent were cancelled. Although Viagra still holds the patent for the manufacturing process of sildenafil. Amongst its other uses, Epimedium wushanense has a number of flavonoids which provide a variety of health benefits.
Benefits of Epimedium extracts
- Aphrodisiac: Epimedium has been considered as a very popular aphrodisiac. Its compound icariin relaxes the muscles by increasing the levels of nitric oixide and also by increasing the blood flow in the sexual organs. This results in increasing the libido and desire for sex. This is the chief importance of Epimedium.
- Cancer: Research has shown that Epimedium extracts decrease the ability of invasion of the cancer cells and also of the migrating metastatic cells, proving to be an effective anti-cancerous plant.
- Asthma: Epimedium alleviates the airway inflammation by reducing the activities of some proteins that produce leukocytes in the lungs. This eventually helps to control the effects of asthma thereafter. It also helps in relieving physical and mental fatigue.
- Anti-Ageing Properties: The flavonoids contained in the Epimedium extracts reset the age related metabolites to a younger level such as saturated fatty acids, unsaturated fatty acids and amino acids. Hence it can be used as an effect anti-ageing drug.
- Enhancing of the memory: Icariin increases the blood flow into the brain and increases the learning ability and memory. The plant has major anti-oxidant properties and affects the working of the nerve and circulatory system.
- Erectile Dysfunction: it has been proved that Epimedium has the same effect on the penis as the Viagra. Erectile dysfunction can be cured effectively on consuming Epimedium.
- Body building and for athletes: The icariin works as a strong supplement for body builders and sports oriented people because of its Nitric Oxide and testosterone boosting properties. Both these play an important role in strengthening the muscles.
- Osteoporosis: The osteocyte cells are developed due to the presence of Icariin. Icariin also helps in the remodeling of the bone thereby proving it to help in the treatment of osteoporosis.
- Relief from menopausal symptoms: Epimedium increases balanced levels of estrogen and estradiol in menopausal women thereby relieving them of some of their symptoms. Women go through a lot of discomfort during menopause and administering Epimedium helps relieve them from their symptoms.
- Sexual health of women: Icariin also helps in the sexual well-being of women along with helping men due to its boosting of nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide improves blood flow in the sexual organs of a woman. It also increases the libido in women.
Side Effects of Epimedium
In some rare cases, Epimedium has shown to result in dry mouth, vomiting and diarrhea in some people which generally resolves in some time. It is recommended that people suffering from heart disease, depression patients, pregnant or lactating women and people with thyroid disorders should consult a doctor before taking a regular dosage of Epimedium.
It could alter with other medications that a person is taking like birth control pills and aspirins. It is very dangerous to take Epimedium with nitroglycerin due to the dangerous drop in the blood pressure.
This treatment is still unproven. It is however recommended to take between 6 GM to 15 GM of horny goat week every day. Epimedium is not naturally available in any other food source.
Where to buy from?
One can buy it from online portals but should be careful of getting scammed. There are various brands of Epimedium but only few of them produce desired results. GH-2 by Pure Science Supplements is by far the best available branded company selling pure Epimedium. It contains 20% icariin, quercetin, luteolin and horny goat week extracts along with some other beneficial compounds. Epimedium is the most sought after dietary supplement and nutritional compound these days.